After knifing, anxiety walks the halls of Portland high school
PORTLAND, Oregon — Many of the students at David Douglas High School in east Portland are immigrants, children whose parents fled war zones and poverty to live in freedom and find prosperity in the United States.
Somalia, Ukraine, Myanmar and Ethiopia are some of the countries represented at the high school. And there are many more.
So, the racist rants and horrific killings on a Portland train that echoed across the diverse high school worried and confused many of the students and hit close to home.
A man yelled racial and religious insults at two girls who attend the school, one of whom was a Muslim and wearing a hijab. The attacker stabbed three men who came to their aid, killing two and wounding another.
English language development teacher Anne Downing, who teaches immigrants, said the incident unnerved the students.
“They are escaping horrendous things. Families burned out of their homes,” she said.
“This school was a safe haven. These were the things they were escaping from. They were escaping things Americans were afraid of.”
The act triggered the high school rumor mill — talk, speculation and worry about the incident expressed in the dozens of languages heard daily across the school.
“They thought the murderer was still out there on the loose and he was killing Somali girls,” Downing explained.
Downing launched a campaign in classes to carefully lay out the facts of the killings and explain that police have the suspect in custody.
“I told them in the end this guy is in jail, and that cheered them right up,” Downing said.
A melting pot
The high school is a remarkable modern-day melting pot, a testament to the United States as a global destination for people fleeing oppression.
As many as 60 languages waft through the halls and classrooms. The flags of the students’ homelands hang in the cafeteria.
Muslim girls wear religious garments; such as the hijab worn by one of the students on the train.
For some of these students, the modern world can be unfamiliar.
Faculty members say some kids saw their first laptop at the school, others used scissors for the first time and some were unfamiliar with putting paper in three-ring binders.
The school does not allow use of electronics. No cellphones. No music headphones. This helps the students’ socialization, Principal John Bier said.
“The kids talk to each other, they integrate really well at lunch,” Bier said.
Feel threatened? Let us know
In light of the train incident, Bier issued a statement urging unity and stressing that officials won’t abandon the students or tolerate intolerance.
“Times like these require us to come together, to draw strength from each other in order to process the extreme emotions that come with this. David Douglas High School is a beautiful place with a rich diversity of students.”
Bier said if anyone feels “threatened or unsafe, please do not hesitate to let a staff member know.”
“Every one of you needs to know that David Douglas High School is a safe place for you,” Bier said.
He had special words for the school’s Muslim students:
“We care about you. We are glad that you are part of our David Douglas community. We will do all we can to be sure you are safe and feel welcome here at David Douglas High School.”
‘All about hugs’
The administrators and teachers are also there for the students who were verbally assaulted on the train, Destinee Mangum, 16, and her friend.
Destinee returned to school Thursday and was greeted by Assistant Principal Sharon Webster.
“It was about hugs,” Webster said. “Not a lot of words. I told her I was here for her. That I was glad she was here.”
Destinee, Webster said, wants to complete her sophomore year “in the best way possible.”
“That says a lot about her character,” Webster said.
She has endured tragedy and vaulted over obstacles, just like many of her classmates.
“They are not victims,” Downing said of her students. “They are survivors.”